KUDELKA firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-08-06 published
Linda STEARNS: 1937-2003
As ballet mistress and artistic director of the esteemed Montreal company, she nurtured personality, flair and a risk-taking approach to dance
By Paula CITRON Wednesday, August 6, 2003 - Page R5
In the cutthroat, competitive world of dance, Linda STEARNS was an anomaly. As artistic director of Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, she never played games or held grudges. Whether good or bad news, she bluntly told her dancers what they had to hear, and in return, her open-door policy allowed them to vent their own feelings. National Ballet of Canada artistic director James KUDELKA, who spent almost a decade as a member of Les Grands Ballets, likens her approach to wearing an invisible raincoat upon which unhappy dancers spewed their venom. At the end of their tirades, she would serenely remove the garment and say, "Now let's talk."
Linda STEARNS died at her home in Toronto on July 4, at age 65.
She was born into privilege on October 22, 1937. Her father, Marshal, was an investment broker; her mother, Helen, was heavily involved in charity work. The family lived in the posh Poplar Plains area of central Toronto, where Ms. STEARNS attended Branksome Hall.
Despite their wealth, the STEARNS children (Linda, Nora and Marshal) were expected to earn their own livings. Helen STEARNS had studied dance in her youth, but a career was never an option. When eldest daughter Linda showed a strong talent, history might have repeated itself had not Marshal Sr. set aside his reservations after seeing his daughter perform.
After graduating from high school, Ms. STEARNS went to London and New York for advanced training. It was the great Alexandra Danilova, one of Ms. STEARNS's New York teachers, who pointed the young dancer in the direction of the upstart Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. Ms. STEARNS joined Les Grands in 1961, and was promoted to soloist in 1964. In a Who's Who of Entertainment entry, Ms. STEARNS was once listed as joining the company in 1861, and she liked to joke that, at 103 years, she held the record for the longest time spent in the corps de ballet. In fact, one of Ms. STEARNS's hallmarks was her sense of humour, much of it at her own expense.
Les Grands was known for taking dancers who did not necessarily have perfect ballet bodies, but had personality and flair, a policy Ms. STEARNS continued during her own administration.
Although Ms. STEARNS had very unballetic, low-arched feet, she was a fine classical dancer. She excelled, however, in the dramatic repertoire: Mother Courage in Richard Kuch's The Brood, or the title role in Brydon Paige's Medea. In later years, while teaching and coaching, Ms. STEARNS wore high heels to conceal her hated low arches -- while showing off her attractive ankles.
Her performing career was cut short in 1966 when artistic director Ludmilla CHIRIAEFF recognized that Ms. STEARNS would make a brilliant ballet mistress, and by 1969, Ms. STEARNS was exclusively in the studio. In fact, giving up performing was one of the great disappointments of her life, although she did in time acknowledge that she had found her true destiny. Ms. STEARNS's astonishingly keen eye allowed her to single out, in a corps de ballet of moving bodies, every limb that was out of position. She could also sing every piece of music, which saved a lot of time, because she didn't have to keep putting on the tape recorder. Because of her intense musicality, Ms. STEARNS also insisted that the dancers not just be on the count, but fill every note with movement.
Ms. STEARNS loved playing with words -- she was a crossword-puzzle addict, for example -- and gave the dancers nicknames, whether they liked them or not. Catherine LAFORTUNE was Katrink, Kathy BIEVER was Little Frog, Rosemary NEVILLE was Rosie Posie, Betsy BARON was Boops, and Benjamin HATCHER was Benjamino, to name but a few. One who escaped this fate was Gioconda BARBUTO, simply because Ms. STEARNS loved rolling out the word "G-I-O-C-O-N-D-A" in its full Italian glory. The dancers, in turn, called her Lulubelle, Mme. Gozonga and La Stearnova or, if they were feeling tired, cranky and hostile -- and were out of earshot -- Spoons (for her non-arched feet) and even less flattering names. As reluctantly as she became ballet mistress, Ms. STEARNS became artistic director, first as one of a triumvirate in 1978 with Danny JACKSON and Colin McINTYRE (when Les Grands and Brian MacDONALD came to an abrupt parting of the ways;) then with Jeanne RENAUD in 1985 and finally on her own in 1987. She retired from Les Grands in 1989. Both Mr. JACKSON and Mr. McINTRYE still refer to Ms. STEARNS as the company's backbone.
These were the famous creative years that included the works of Mr. KUDELKA, Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, Nacho Duato and George Balanchine. Les Grands toured the world performing one of the most exciting and eclectic repertoires in ballet. It was a company that nurtured dancers and choreographers, many of whom reflected Ms. STEARNS's risk-taking, innovative esthetic.
She also had time to mentor choreographers outside the company, including acclaimed solo artist Margie GILLIS. Her post-Grands career included writing assessments for the Canada Council, setting works on ballet companies, coaching figure skating, and most recently, becoming ballet mistress for the Toronto-based Ballet Jörgen. When she was diagnosed with both ovarian and breast cancer two years ago, she continued her obligations to Ballet Jörgen until she was no longer able, never letting the dancers know how ill she was.
Ms. STEARNS loved huge dogs -- or what Ms. GILLIS refers to as mountains with fur -- and always had at least two. Her gardens were magnificent, as was her cooking. Her generosity was legendary, whether inviting 20 people for Christmas dinner, or hosting the wedding reception for dancers Andrea BOARDMAN and Jean-Hugues ROCHETTE at her tastefully decorated Westmount home. After leaving Montreal, whether, first, at her horse farm in Harrow, Ontario, or at the one-room schoolhouse she lovingly renovated near Campbellville, northwest of Toronto, former colleagues were always welcome.
She continued to keep in touch with her dancers, sending notes in her beautiful, distinctive handwriting. Her love of sports never left her, and after a hard day in the studio, she would relax watching the hockey game. Religion also filled her postdance life, with Toronto's Anglican Grace-Church-on-the-Hill at its epicentre. Ms. STEARNS was very discreet in her private life, although another disappointment is that neither of two long relationships resulted in marriage or children.
Ms. STEARNS was always ruthlessly self-critical, always striving for perfection, never convinced she had rehearsed a work to its full potential. As a result, she never made herself the centre of her own story. Her homes, for example, did not contain photographs glorifying the career of Linda STEARNS. Only at the end of her days, as she faced death with the same grace with which she had faced life, was she finally able to appreciate how many lives she had touched, and accept her outstanding achievements with Les Grands Ballets. Linde HOWE- BECK, former dance critic for the Montreal Gazette, sums up Ms. STEARNS perfectly when she says that she was all about love -- for her Friends and family, for life, but most of all, for dance.
Paula CITRON is dance critic for The Globe and Mail.
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KUDRAY email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-08-11 published
GUTMAN, Adam (George Adams)
In Montreal on Sunday, August 10, 2003. Beloved husband of the late Ida Baron GUTMAN. Father of Betty, and Dr. Jimmy GUTMAN. Father-in-law of Susan SCHAFER and Greg KUDRAY. Brother-in-law of Albert BARON and Sylvia GUTMAN. Grandfather of Evan and Bianca. Uncle of Debby, Judy and Stephen MERLMELSTEIN, Fran PARKER and Shelly COHEN. Admired by thousands. Died gently in the presence of his family. Leaves behind a legacy of art, music and poetry. An accomplished and charitable mentor for the entire community regardless of colour, race or creed. Our greatest thanks to the loving and caring staff of Manoir Pierrefonds. Funeral Service from Paperman and sons, 3888 Jean Talon W., Montreal on Tuesday, August 12, 2003 at 10: 45 a.m. Burial at the Rodomer Society Section, Mount Pleasant Cemetery Duvernay. Shiva at his son's home. Donations may be made to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in memory of Adam GUTMAN. (514-842-3402.)
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